(By: Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune)
Start with Knute Rockne, the Gipper and the Golden Dome. Add Ara Parseghian, Rudy and the Four Horsemen. Add Dan Devine, a leprechaun and Joe Montana.
Notre Dame’s cast of characters is considerable and Duluth artist Tim Cortes has the task of combining them onto a canvas one foot high and six feet long.
He was hired by the private university in South Bend, Ind., to commemorate 125 years of football, a celebration that begins in August.
The colored-pencil drawing is the most significant piece produced by Cortes since opening his studio in 2000.
Notre Dame came looking for him in March.
“You don’t sit by the window and hope for a job to fall into your lap, but that’s what happened,” Cortes said last week. “When I was contacted, I just about fell off my chair. I would’ve been crazy to say no to an opportunity like this.”
Senior associate athletic director John Heisler, who has co-written or edited nine books on Notre Dame football, saw a sample of Cortes’ artwork in the NCAA magazine Champion.
That piece was commissioned by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for a centennial celebration in 2012.
Heisler first made contact by e-mail, and Cortes, after catching his breath, made a phone call. He spent two days on campus last month and was provided a list of notable players and coaches, plus important games in program history, yet wasn’t told what to draw.
That was up to the artist. A timeline of the program’s history ultimately seemed to be the best direction. Six separate panels, depicting six eras, are combined in the piece.
Each panel will be featured on a game program for Notre Dame’s six home games in 2012, with season-ticket demand the highest in four years. The team’s history includes 13 national championships, 96 All-Americans and seven Heisman Trophy winners.
Cortes, 46, started drawing June 20 and has a deadline of July 31.
“This is the most exciting project I’ve ever done and a monster-size piece to create because of all the detail work,” said Cortes, a Duluth East and University of Minnesota graduate, who later attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
His stature has spiked in recent years as his realistic artwork has gained prominence.
He drew three commemorative murals for the Minnesota Twins in 2010 to honor the team’s three World Series teams of 1965, 1987 and 1991.
Two other pieces, displayed in the locker room area at Amsoil Arena, feature Minnesota Duluth overtime victories in NCAA Division I hockey championship games — for the UMD women in 2010 and the men in 2011.
The Notre Dame project has kept Cortes drawing eight to 10 hours daily, sometimes working around the clock in the basement studio of his home, taking short catnaps.
And while being connected to America’s most storied college football program is a thrill, Cortes also anticipates being well-compensated.
He will be paid a fee for the artwork and have an exclusive copyright license for seven years, through 2019.
That arrangement, which favors the artist, is rare, said Cortes.
He expects to market the art through IMG Worldwide.
Cortes, who works almost entirely in sports art, next will finish two UMD-connected pieces — one featuring the school’s five Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners, to be displayed at Amsoil Arena, and another specifically for Duluthian Jack Connolly, who won the 2012 award.